Published Online: April 1, 2010

Hawaii Teachers Vote to Put Kids Back in Class

Hawaii school teachers voted Wednesday in favor of a proposed deal to end the nation's shortest school year and put 179,000 students back in class.

Teachers approved the new supplemental labor contract with 84 percent of the vote, putting pressure on Hawaii's elected leaders to pay for the $92 million deal.

The vote puts an agreement in place to resume a full 180-day school year after teacher furloughs cut 17 days from this school year and next to help balance the state budget.

"It sends a very clear message that the teachers are willing to compromise," said Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "We realize the economic situation in Hawaii, but we feel like we have to put all of that aside and look out for the best interest of the students."

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has said the deal is too expensive, and she wouldn't spend that much money.

The Democrat-led Legislature is advancing several proposals to pay for all or part of the plan using the state's savings or general funds, but Lingle could decide to withhold that money.

"We're trying to take a stand," said Miki Gouveia, an English language learner teacher at Kalakaua Middle School, after casting her vote. "It shows the kids that we care and want to go back to work."

The deal between the teachers union and the Board of Education would restore more than half of the 8 percent pay cut teachers accepted when they ratified a contract in October calling for the furlough days.

Those days off reduced Hawaii's school year to 163 days, the fewest in the nation.

There are still 21 furlough days remaining — four this school year and 17 next school year.

Lingle's proposal to end school closures due to teacher furloughs fell short of what the teachers union voted for.

The governor's plan would have spent about $30 million less, asked teachers to hold class on nine of their planning days and kept furlough days in place for nonessential workers.

Under the deal ratified by about 7,000 of the state's 13,500 teachers Wednesday, teachers would hold class on six of their planning days, and all school employees would be called back to work.

Although the vote doesn't reopen schools immediately, it sets a framework for how school furlough days could end.

The contract allows the governor to spend only the money needed to fund next year's furlough days, cutting its cost by about $24 million, Okabe said.

Another idea being considered by Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi would restart classes on furlough days even without Lingle's support.

He said next year's public school calendar could be reworked so that the furlough days would fall in the second half of the school year, after the term-limited governor leaves office following November's elections.

Then the next governor could choose to spend the money and students would attend a full slate of days, he said.

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